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To Soot or Not To Soot ---- Paraffin vs Soy Candles -- And How To make the Most of Them

Christine Ross

Why is there a black ring around my candle?

Is paraffin toxic?

Is wax biodegradable?

You may have heard stories recently about the benefits of soy wax, or about how paraffin wax is unhealthy or not good for you. In this episode of The Crunchy Corner, we will examine the myths and rumors and give the straight facts on both soy and paraffin wax candles and allow you to see what the truth and fuss is all about.

To understand the benefits, or lack thereof, you need to know where each comes from. Manufacturing has EVERYTHING to do with the quality of the candle.. meaning the quality of the wax. Just like everything else.. shoddy ingredients.. shoddy product. A good candle-maker will ALWAYS source the highest quality wax.

Paraffin Wax

  • Discovered in 1850
  • A heavy hydrocarbon
  • A natural product derived from the components of decayed animal and plant material
  • Made by removing the waxy substance from crude oil ( fosssil fuel)
  • Most popular kind of wax used in candle making
  • Easy to use
  • Non-toxic, colorless, clean-burning fuel
  • Has a clearly defined large crystal structure and a melt point usually between 120-160 degrees
  • Tends to be hard and brittle

Soy Wax

  • Discovered in 1991 as an alternative to paraffin wax
  • Natural, renewable, non-toxic and biodegradable 
  • Hydrogenated form of soybean oil
  • Available in flake form and has an off-white appearance
  • Has a lower melting point than paraffin
  • Commercial soy wax blends tend to be softer than paraffin and will melt in warm weather
  • Burns longer and at a cooler temperature than paraffin wax

The Soot Factor

There are a lot of myths surrounding soy candles. Most of these are designed to sell soy candles better, and have very little truth in them. The " No Soot" Factor is one of them.

  • All Organic Compounds emit Soot when burned ( incomplete combustion)
  • Incorrect wick length can produce soot
  • Disturbance of flame ( under a ceiling fan) can produce soot
  • Soy CAN produce a white soot. Black Soot is from paraffin.

Candle soot is composed primarily of elemental carbon particles, and is similar to the soot given off by kitchen toasters and cooking oils. These everyday household sources of soot are not considered a health concern, and are chemically different from the soot formed by the burning of diesel fuel, coal, gasoline, etc.

Wicky Wicky Wicky

Yes.. the wick can make a difference.

One of the main concerns over candles, besides the scents, is the wick. Different wicks are used for different purposes and they can be divided into two main categories: cored and non-cored wicks. Non-cored wicks are usually made of a braided or twisted cotton and considered the safest to burn.

Soy and Paraffin can both be made with wire/led wicks, so it is important to ask the question.

Cored wicks are usually made of cotton around a paper or metal core. Zinc, tin, and lead are standard compounds used in its composition. Burning candles with lead-cored wicks is now known to cause lead poisoning, and there are similar concerns about zinc-cored wicks. In 1974, the National Candle Association of the U.S. voluntarily stopped using lead-cored wicks because of risks with airborne lead.  Unfortunately, many countries outside of North America still produce candles using dangerous wicks.

We use ECO Series Wicks for our candles.

  • designed for natural waxes
  • flat, coreless, cotton wick
  • controlled curling and self trimming
  • minimized mushrooming and soot
  • reduce afterglow
  • primed with vegetable ( not paraffin) wax

Benefits of Soy

So far the differences between soy and paraffin seem minuscule and are rather a personal choice. There ARE, however, some benefits to purchasing a Soy Candle over Paraffin.

  • Soy wax, which comes from soy beans doesn't contain pollutants
  • Soy is biodegradable
  • There is a considerable reduction of soot emission when burning Soy wax.
  • Clean up of Soy can be done by using soap and water, so containers can be reused for additional candles or other items. Spills onto clothing, tablecloths, and carpet are easier to clean off.
  • There are special wicks used for Soy wax candles that don't contain lead.
  • Soy wax helps support American Soy Bean Farmers ( renewable resource)
  • Soy wax burns completely, paraffin usually will leave a portion of the wax at the bottom of the container.
  • Soy wax burns at a cooler temperature which makes the burn time for the candle longer, so that you can enjoy your candle even more.
  • Cooler temperature also means the candle wax will not scald if touched. ( think birthday cake candle wax)

We would never recommend that you touch a burning candle. But we are trying to explain the differences between soy and paraffin. And since soy combusts at a lower temp, it makes sense that it should burn slower than paraffin. In fact, we’ve read studies that suggest soy candles burn up to 30 to 50% longer than comparable paraffin candles, and they’re great for the environment

Additives in Paraffin Candles

Stearic acid was once the only additive available for paraffin candles and is derived from either animal fat or palm oil. Now, there are various additavives that may be appearing in your favorite paraffin candle.

It is now often replaced with Vybar, a polymer which raises the melting point of paraffin, allows scents and colors to blend evenly in the wax, and gives the paraffin some of the qualities of more expensive waxes, allowing candle makers to charge more for a cheap candle.

Microcrystallines are a group of substances derived from petroleum that are added to candles to change the texture of the wax, add gloss, increase opacity, etc. Polyethylenes are produced from natural gas. They add gloss, luster, or clear crystals to wax.

  • Stearic Acid - helps release pillar candles from their mold. Increades dye colors.
  • Vybar ( ploymer) -Vybar is the alternative to stearic acid. This also helps the scent  throw.
  • Mineral Oil - achieve a mottling effect to your candles
  • Polysorbate 80 - Ad additative used to blend essential oils into a paraffin candle.
  • UV Light Inhibitor

Scented vs Non Scented

Researchers at South Carolina State University tested both petroleum-based paraffin wax candles and vegetable-based candles that were non-scented, non-pigmented and free of dyes. Their 2009 report concluded that while the vegetable-based candles didn’t produce any potentially harmful pollutants, the paraffin candles “released unwanted chemicals into the air,” said chemistry professor Ruhullah Massoudi in a statement.

“For a person who lights a candle every day for years or just uses them frequently, inhalation of these dangerous pollutants drifting in the air could contribute to the development of health risks like cancer, common allergies and even asthma,” Massoudi said.

The above test was conducted on NON SCENTED candles. When a scent ( fragrance or essential oil) is added to the wax, they can emit other elements into the air. 

Most natural candle-makers will use Phthalate Free Fragrances and/or essential oils to scent their candles. 

Candle Memory

We’ve heard that candles have “memories.” This struck us as funny, but it’s kind of true. Let us explain.

The first time you burn your candle, it will start to “pool” across the top of the candle. The candle seems to “remember” how far it pooled the first time, and will only pool the same diameter the next times you light the candle. If a candle is not allowed to pool properly, you can get the “tunnel” effect where you are left with a ton of wasted wax on the sides of the container. 

This tunneling effect can also affect how the flame/wick respond to the wax. If the candle cannot burn properly, it will soot, or have a low flame. This can be difficult to remedy in a container candle, however, for a pillar, you can just cut the candle done and start the burn all over.

Soy wax is softer than paraffin and only is best in container candles. Pillar candles and votives are predominately made up of paraffin, due to its hardiness. Several companies do use a blend of 50/50 paraffin and soy for their pillars and votives. If the label on the candle does NOT state a wax.. it is usually 100% paraffin

This is pretty much the skinny on Paraffin vs. Soy. At Essentially NOLA, we choose to make 100% soy candles. We like the fact they they are cleaner burning and that Soy is a renewable resource. 

I hope you enjoy this edition of The Crunchy Crunchy. AS always.. please do your own research to make the most informed decision about your own health and well being.




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  • john on

    is there a test to find out if the wax is paraffin or soy?

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